The continued closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has affected rural communities with pupils falling behind in learning due to lack of access to online learning platforms.
One such community which has been hit hard is the San Community in Tsholotsho amid fears that some of the pupils are more likely to drop out of school.
Schools closed prematurely in March when the National Lockdown came into effect and while schools in the urban areas have migrated to online learning, the same cannot be said for rural schools.
In an interview with CITE, Director of the Tsoro-tso-oo Development Trust Director, Davy Ndlovu, said the San Community have experienced an unequal education system that has been worsened by the negative impacts of Covid-19.
“When the lockdown started, the children had to go home. I know there were more than 15 learners at John Landa High School in Tsholotsho. Initially, there were 24 learners but others dropped out. The challenge now is when the schools were closed, the children didn’t take their textbooks as they thought the lockdown was going to be for three weeks only. Since that time these children have not been leaning,” he claimed.
Nldovu said the San are mostly found in Ward 1 – Pelandaba Village, Ward 2- Mazibulala Village, Ward 7 – Sanqinyana, Sifulasengwe, Damulocingo, Gulalikabili Villages, Ward 8 – Garia Village and Ward 10 – Mtshina Village.
He lamented that San children were sitting at home doing nothing yet some of them are supposed to be preparing for their end of year exams.
“Right now, we don’t know if ever they will write the examinations and the biggest challenge is their parents and guardians already registered for the end of year examinations.
“Another worry is if they manage to write, won’t they fail then have to repeat next year. This means the fees and registration fees are going to be a challenge for parents and guardians again,” he said.
Ndlovu said his organisation conducted a research paper on access to education and a major concern that was highlighted was whether all the classes would have to repeat the school year since all missed out on learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Due to this disruption, the lives of many children, their parents, and teachers have been affected, with people calling for remote learning strategies.
But the Tsoro-tso-oo Development Trust director stressed the vast inequality of opportunities that existed would be amplified for the San children.
“Many children do not have books, internet connectivity or laptops at home. We may talk about online lessons but there is no network where they stay. In Tsholotsho the reception boosters or towers are only available at Tsholotsho Centre, Sipepa, Dlamini, Mkhayeni, Pumula and another area which I can’t recall. Network does not reach far-off parts. Therefore we need to minimise these differences in opportunities so that the San are also empowered,” Ndlovu said.
Reached for comment, Matabeleland North Provincial Education Director, Jabulani Mpofu, said he would need to investigate and confirm the position concerning San children.
“I am in the process of compiling areas without network such as in Binga as we are conducting radio lessons and online lessons for leaners. But we informed schools that they must give books to their learners and textbooks were loaned out. There is a register noting those who received the books. But I will have to confirm this matter involving the San children,” he said.
Save The Children, in its latest report titled, Save Our Education, has warned that due to deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, at least 9.7 million children could be forced out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning.
“Around 10 million children may never return to school – this is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning. Instead, we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts which will see existing inequality explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls. We know the poorest, most marginalised children who were already the furthest behind have suffered the greatest loss, with no access to distance learning – or any kind of education – for half an academic year,” Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children.